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ATLANTA, Ga. — On Dec. 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices updated interim COVID-19 vaccine allocation recommendations, which included frontline workers in meat and poultry plants in its Phase 1b rollout.
“In Phase 1b, COVID-19 vaccine should be offered to persons aged around 75 years and non–health care frontline essential workers, and in Phase 1c, to persons aged 65-74 years, persons aged 16-64 years with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers not included in Phase 1b,” the committee said in its recommendation. “Essential workers perform duties across critical infrastructure sectors and maintain the services and functions that U.S. residents depend on daily.”
The guidance was lauded by meat companies and industry groups who previously urged the CDC for food industry workers to be one of the early-vaccinated groups.
“Frontline meat and poultry associates and farmers have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuity of America’s food supply,” said Randy Day, Perdue Farms CEO in a Dec. 22 statement. “Perdue appreciates the recommendation from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that these dedicated essential workers should be part of Phase 1b in vaccine distribution nationwide, which we requested in a letter to the CDC and state governors earlier this month.
“We continue to encourage the CDC and states to enact a coordinated, multi-state distribution approach and allow industry partners, like Perdue, to support state and federal health officials in multi-lingual educational and outreach efforts regarding the vaccine as Phase 1b distribution strategies are finalized. We regularly work with local leaders in the communities where we operate and our associates live, and the company stands ready to support the important work of education and information dissemination in these communities.”
In a Dec. 23 joint letter to governors, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the North American Meat Institute emphasized that quickly vaccinating the sector’s diverse workforce of some 500,000 employees across the country will maximize health benefits, especially in rural communities that often have limited health services, while keeping Americans’ refrigerators full and our farm economy working.
COVID-19 “Health authorities around the world, employers, unions, and civil rights groups all agree – high priority access to vaccines is critical for the long-term safety of essential frontline meat and poultry workers who have kept Americans’ refrigerators full and our farm economy working throughout this crisis,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts.
In the first wave of the virus during the spring, thousands or processing facility workers contracted the virus nationwide.
Meat plants closed and caused pork and beef production to drop as much as about 40 percent before President Donald Trump issued an executive order on April 28 for factories to stay open.
Meat plants spent more than $1 billion for protective equipment, testing, worker pay and other measures such as retrofitting facilities with plastic dividers, according to the Meat Institute.
Vaccinations can, in many cases, be administered through meat and poultry facilities’ existing health programs and staff, the joint letter said. UFCW and the Meat Institute also committed to assist employees with information and access to off-site vaccination, if needed, and to support vaccine information and education efforts.
In a Dec. 10 letter to the CDC and governors of states where Perdue operates, Day urged that not only poultry facility employees, but also their families and co-habitants, be placed at the top of the list as vaccines are distributed to those listed in Phase 1b.
“To truly stop the spread of this virus, and to protect the men and women who continue to support our economy and food supply through their essential work, meat and poultry employees — and those who live with them — must be able to receive a vaccine as quickly as possible,” Day wrote.
Specifically, because many meat and poultry industry workers, including Perdue associates, live in one state but work in another, Perdue urged the CDC and governors to develop a multi-state strategy for vaccine distribution and education efforts, to avoid confusion that a patchwork of state policies would create and that would potentially inhibit participation rates.
Additionally, Perdue offered to support state and federal health officials in multi-lingual educational and outreach efforts regarding the vaccine. Perdue said it regularly works with local leaders in the communities where it operates and its associates live, and the company stands ready to support the important work of education and information dissemination through direct employee communications and broader education efforts in these communities.
About 49 million people, including 30 million frontline non–health care essential workers are recommended to receive vaccine in Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination program.
Along with food and agriculture workers, the committee has classified first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers as frontline workers.